Monday, July 05, 2010

The Breakup Letter

So, with a theme of 1776, it only seems obvious that I sit down and write a short but thoughtful post about the Declaration of Independence and how it has affected our country and many others as well.

Huh. Good thing I don't go for the obvious.

Instead I want to write about what "1776" brings to mind. And the first thing it brings to mind for me is fifth grade history.

In fifth grade in my school district, students have their first full year of learning American History. (The next year is eighth grade, I'll get to that.) For me, fifth was my favorite. Not only because I had the most awesome teacher ever (see the acknowledgments of my book) but because I honestly liked learning US history.

Therefore, I had pretty good base knowledge on the topic when we got to eighth grade. I expected my social studies teacher, the awesome/fearsome/manly Mr. Stout, to start out the lesson with a "and so the British were being mean and taxing our tea and yada yada wrote the Declaration."

But no. One day we came into class and Mr. Stout was pacing at the front of the room, holding a piece of paper. He frowned at us, told us to take our seats, and then said, "I found a very disturbing note in the hallway today." He paused, then said, "Honestly, do you guys not know how to write a breakup letter?"

I remember sharing a look with Katie, trying to figure out if he was serious. Mr. Stout was the kind of teacher that could look dead serious discussing the ways to off someone on the original 8-bit "Oregon Trail" game, but joking as he told someone off.

"I mean, this is atrocious," he went on. "Listen. 'I hate you. You're mean and ugly and I can't stand your presence and I have to break up with you. It's over. PS you smell.'"

He glowered at us. "Get out a piece of paper. We're going to learn how to do this the proper way."

We all scrambled to get out pieces of paper. Mr. Stout launched into how the proper way to do a break-up letter was to state the problem, tell the breakup-ee how he/she could improve, offer suggestions as to a compromise, and "for goodness sakes don't use the line "it's not you, it's me."

He had us write out own--"FAKE"--breakup letters. By this point we still had no idea if he was kidding or not. Only after he made a few of us read ours out loud did he casually mention that this breakup letter format was the same format used in writing the Declaration of Independence.

"The Declaration was essentially a breakup letter," Mr. Stout told us as we gaped at him. "The colonies were breaking up with England."

So that's the second thing I think of when I see "1776." Breakup letters.


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